Looney sends friendly reminder to Warriors, NBA in win vs. Magic

Looney sends friendly reminder to Warriors, NBA in win vs. Magic originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO – Kevon Looney sent a memo to the Warriors, to their fans, to the Orlando Magic and to the rest of the NBA Tuesday night. Not intentionally but by happenstance.

Seven words: I’m still here, and I still matter.

The Warriors didn’t really need to read it, but the message needed to reach those outside their bubble.

Looney has spent most of this season undiscussed, particularly when related to Golden State’s big men. There has been considerable talk about how veteran Dario Sarić, with his shooting range and passing ability, is such a seamless match for the offense. The conversation surrounding rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis has evolved from “When will he get a chance to play?” to “He’s adding a dimension this team really needed.”

Looney? What little has been said has focused largely on his usual modest numbers. No need to get into his inability to stretch the floor like Sarić or finish at the rim like Jackson-Davis, because that’s never been Loon’s game. Never will be.

Rebounding and screening, doing both until his body barks, is Looney’s calling. And Tuesday night, with the Magic’s battalion of big men battering the Warriors on the glass, his value suddenly skyrocketed.

Orlando took a decisive 27-17 rebounding edge into the locker room at halftime. Jackson-Davis, making his second consecutive start, grabbed two rebounds in 13 minutes. Sarić snagged one rebound in seven minutes off the bench. Looney played five minutes and picked up one rebound.

“We started rebounding in the second half,” coach Steve Kerr said. “They had 13 offensive boards in the first half, only three in the second half. I thought our work on the glass was much better.”

That’s partly because Kerr adjusted his center rotation after halftime. Jackson-Davis started the second half and played 11 minutes. Sarić played eight minutes. Looney played 12 minutes, including all but 33 seconds of the final 6:21.

The Warriors outrebounded the Magic 19-14 over the final two quarters.

“Loon was fantastic, plus-10, and obviously closed the game,” Kerr said. “He’s so good defensively.

“Wiggs (Andrew Wiggins), Brandin (Podziemski) . . . our bench came in and really did a good job.”

Looney grabbed only four rebounds in the second half, but the 6-foot-9, eight-year veteran spent most of his time banging with and blocking out Orlando’s massive front line, which managed four offensive rebounds after intermission.

With five rotation players standing at least 6-foot-10, the Magic’s centers and power forwards rank among the tallest in the NBA. Six-foot-10 Paulo Banchero, who had eight rebounds in the first half, had four in the second. Moritz Wagner, at 6-foot-11, had five rebounds in the first half, none in the second.

The entire Golden State team caught the rebounding bug in the second half, but Looney’s presence was the catalyst. When he entered with 6:21 remaining, the Warriors had a 97-95 lead. When he exited with 33.5 seconds remaining, they were leading 116-108.

“Orlando has been playing great, they’re very physical, and that’s been kind of our weakness,” Warriors star Stephen Curry said. “Trying not to foul and give up offensive rebounds, and all those things.”

Looney started the first 11 games of the season and 28 of the first 31. The last two starts have gone to Jackson-Davis, who rarely left the bench until two weeks ago. Sarić has played only seven fewer minutes than Looney.

The big-man rotation, under scrutiny all season, has become one of several experiments that are ongoing and likely will be for a while – particularly with Jackson-Davis getting his chance to start.

“We’re going to keep experimenting because there hasn’t been one look that’s worked consistently,” Curry said of the team’s variable rotations. “That’s just the situation we’ve been in all year.”

All three big men have vastly different skills that make them solid complements to each other. This Warriors team, as the roster currently exists, needs all three to reach its potential.

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